Urban agriculture is hot. And for good reason. It can help alleviate urban food deserts, make our food as “local” and fresh as possible and decrease the “food miles” associated with long-distance transportation. From rooftop gardens and aquaponics centers in converted warehouses, to growing crops on abandoned properties, urban agriculture provides a wide range of community benefits, including closer neighborhood ties, reduced crime, education and job training opportunities, and healthy food access for low-income residents.
“That’s why,” say’s Dr. Leonard Githinji, Virginia State University’s Urban Agriculture Extension Specialist, “It’s no wonder we’re seeing a huge increase in the number of urban farms from Brooklyn to Boise and everywhere in between.”
But training hasn’t kept up with demand for these urban cowboys. As Githinji explains, a lot of non-profits, churches, businesses and municipalities are putting a great deal of resources into getting urban farms up and running. So much so that last year the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) published an Urban Agriculture Toolkit to provide informational resources to these group leaders, many of whom have never farmed before or know a nematode from a horned toad. (For the record, a nematode is parasitic worm that often causes damage to garden crops like tomatoes and peppers. A horned toad is actually a desert lizard.)
But there’s a lot to learn, he explains, from business planning, legal issues and market development to soil quality, pest management and plant health. And while an online tool kit is a great resource, we need more science-based, boots-on-the-ground training for these urban pioneers.